Bryn Mawr Reading Series: Ocean Vuong

 I found a seat in the Great Hall just minutes before the poet Ocean Vuong’s reading began. The setting sun cast rosy light through the high stained glass windows. “Ocean Vuong’s poetry takes a complex approach to all that geography holds, the intimate failures of history, and the victory available in visiting and revisiting one’s memories of space and time,” Professor Matthews of the Creative Writing department said in her introduction. Then the poet stood up and gave us a shy wave as he approached the podium. He said it was fitting, although almost redundant, to read in the church-like setting of the Great Hall, because “poetry is a kind of church.” With his round reading glasses and high collar, Vuong transformed into a temporary priest of poetry.

He read several poems from his collection “Night Sky with Exit Wounds” and then a sizable excerpt—a “hybrid essay”—from a forthcoming novel. At some readings I’ve attended, the visiting writers will tell stories in between poems, tell the backstory of how that particular piece came into existence, for instance, or some other musing that comes to mind. Vuong was spare with his comments. He drew our attention to themes of fatherhood, marginalization, and queer identity, but for the most part the poems spoke for themselves.  

Vuong’s soft voice echoed and dispersed. He drew out soft consonants. The rhythm of his poetry is a steady ebb and flow. At one point in the excerpt from his novel, a character sings, and instead of simply reading the lyrics, Vuong broke out into song. Unexpectedly. Mournfully. Watching him sing was like staring into a bright lamp. After I looked away everything else seemed dim.

Exploring Germantown

As I mentioned in my last blog post, I will be interning this summer in Philadelphia. Specifically, I will be working in Germantown. A lot of people I talk to are not familiar with this neighborhood, so I thought I’d write a little bit about it.

Located in northwest Philadelphia, Germantown was once a separate township from “old Philadelphia.” The area was largely isolated from the rest of the city until 1884, when a railroad line was built to connect Philadelphia with outlying parts of the county. This led to heavy development in Germantown, and it became a thriving commercial and residential district. By the 1970s, however, due to white flight and blockbusting, Germantown suffered economically. Stores boarded up their windows and the area became crime-ridden. In the present day, you can clearly see that Germantown has had a turnaround.

Walking along Germantown Avenue, you can see restaurants, bustling shops, pedestrians, and cafes. Germantown strikes me as a friendly neighborhood. Elderly neighbors walking outside wished me a good afternoon, while parents picking up their children chatted in the early spring sunlight. The history of the area is easy to see, in the beautiful old houses, the church graveyards, and the many marked historic sites. For example, George Washington’s “Summer White House,” his escape from the Yellow Fever epidemic of the city, is located in Germantown.

Germantown is not very accessible from Bryn Mawr by public transit—it is possible to take a train and then a bus, but the trip takes about an hour. This summer I’ll be living much closer, and I’m excited to have more opportunities to explore.

Searching for an Internship

Beginning my sophomore year, I started feeling a lot of pressure to find a summer internship. There are many reasons to work as an intern: to network with professionals in your field, to learn new skills, to gain experience, or to see if a certain job might be right for you. Unfortunately, many internships are unpaid, and it can be hard to predict how useful a certain internship might even be. Not to mention, many positions are very competitive.

This year I applied to 11 internships before being offered a position—had I not heard back when I did, I would have continued to send off applications to many more. After putting so much effort into pursuing an internship, I wanted to write a blog post with some tips and tricks that I learned along the way.

  1. Narrow down your interests.

At the start of this process, I made a list of the fields in which I would look for an internship. My list included magazine and literary publishing, nonprofits that promote literacy or the arts, and museums. I knew I was looking to develop my writing skills and to work with people, especially doing educational work of some kind.

Having this specific set of criteria helped me eliminate any internship that did not suit my interests and goals. It’s also important to have some idea of where you want to be during the summer. For the past two summers I have gone home to Minneapolis, but this summer I looked for internships in the Philadelphia area.

  1. Google research.

Once I knew what I was looking for, I started doing research in the broadest way possible, just to get a sense of what was out there. I just typed keywords into Google—for example, “Philadelphia literary journals”—and clicked on anything that looked interesting. Many websites will have a “careers” or “opportunities” page, where any internships will be listed. If you can’t find anything listed, it never hurts to send an email (from your .edu email account!) asking if the organization ever does offer internships for college students.

  1. JoinHandshake.com

JoinHandshake.com is a website where you can find so many job and internships listings, and often apply directly through the website. There are filters to find jobs in certain geographical areas or fields. You can also create a personalized profile so that the website will recommend jobs that fit you.

This website is how I found my internship for the summer, so of course I would recommend it! I found it very efficient and easy to use, and since Bryn Mawr students automatically get accounts, you might as well try it out.

  1. BookJobs.com

BookJobs.com is a website that might be of interest to other English majors that lists jobs from all over the country that relate to the publishing field. I responded to a couple of postings on this website. You can narrow down the results to just internships or just jobs. As you might expect, many of the positions are concentrated in New York, so if you are looking to be in that area you should check out this website.

  1. Have confidence in your application skills!

This might seem obvious, but if you don’t know how to write a cover letter or format a resume, make sure to brush up! Bryn Mawr’s Career Planning Office was a lifesaver last year when I needed to learn these skills. After a little practice, I had my application-writing process down to a science.

Job hunting of any kind is stressful, and it’s easy to feel paralyzed—by the sheer amount of options in front of you, but also by the fear of failure or rejection. I am by no means an expert, but the most important piece of advice I have is to cast as wide a net as possible. In other words: apply for jobs you might not be qualified for; apply to jobs you find fascinating but have no experience in, apply for jobs that are ridiculously competitive. A year ago, I agonized over every application I sent out, pinning all my hopes on one prospect. This year, I applied to everything that looked intriguing. An internship is kind of like a trial run—it’s a short-term commitment to explore your interests and learn about what you need from a work environment. Good luck to everyone who is waiting to hear back about summer plans, and I hope these tips were helpful!

Community Day of Learning 2018

On March 20, Bryn Mawr held its fourth annual Community Day of Learning. Instead of classes, students, faculty, and staff have the option to attend a wide variety of workshops and lectures devoted to topics that help us better understand each other and ourselves. I went to all three sessions throughout the day. In the morning I attended “Reflecting on Bryn Mawr’s Relationship with Mental Health and Disability on Campus,” after lunch I headed to “Narrative Therapy: How the Stories We Tell Impact Our Present,” and then I finished up the day with “Managing Difficult Conversations: How to talk so people will listen and listen so they will talk.” All three sessions were interesting and informative.

The workshop on mental health and disability was the only one I went to that was led by students; three members of EnAble, a club for students with disabilities and their allies, did research in the Bryn Mawr archives to learn about how the college acknowledged disability throughout its history. I really admired how they read between the lines, piecing together documents to find the presence of students with disabilities and mental health conditions, who have always existed but have not always been accommodated.

I went to the session on Narrative Therapy just because I didn’t know what that was, and was curious to find out. The session was led by a student at Bryn Mawr’s Graduate School of Social Work. He taught us that Narrative Therapy is a tool to explore and reframe one’s experiences in a way that can empower the individual. We were encouraged to discuss thought-provoking questions about the narratives that are prevalent at Bryn Mawr as well as in our larger culture, and how these might affect our ways of thinking. This session was a little intense at times, as we discussed very heavy topics. Still, it was good to get a reminder of how I can shape the stories that I tell myself about my own life.

The last session, on listening to others, provided the most practical skills of the day. We divided into pairs for most of the session and took turns practicing active sharing and listening skills. Then we gave our partners feedback. I am always trying to become a better listener, so I appreciated this opportunity.

I’ve gone to Community Day of Learning every year I’ve been at Bryn Mawr, and I would encourage everyone to take advantage of these sessions as much as they are able. It’s fun to learn about things you are not specifically studying in classes, especially topics that are so pertinent and important.

Double majoring and a conversation with Maria

About a month ago, I visited my Spanish advisor to ask about transferring credits from study abroad to count toward my Spanish minor. Although I hadn’t seen her for the better part of a year, Professor Quintero remembered me and warmly welcomed me into her office, which is covered from floor to ceiling in books. After discussing the classes I’d taken abroad, she informed me that with the amount of credits I now have, it doesn’t make logical sense not to major in Spanish. I was shocked; it had never crossed my mind to become a double major. The truth is, my interest in Spanish is not really academic. My plan had always been to study Spanish in college in order to maintain my language skills and then be able to travel after graduation. Learning about other languages fascinates me, but reading or writing about Spanish literature or scholarly articles is not my strong suit.

Learning that I had enough credits to major in Spanish was a surprise, but it probably shouldn’t have been. If you talk to enough Bryn Mawr students a pattern starts to develop: very few people end up following the exact same path they envisioned when they entered college. Our academic journeys take strange twists. One particular class or professor might open someone’s eyes to a previously unknown passion. Over time, a person’s chosen major may seem less relevant to their preferred career path. It can be hard to let go of your assumptions about yourself. When I was a sophomore I had little trouble deciding to be an English major, with a Spanish minor hastily thrown in for good measure. I now see that I could have been more open to challenging myself with a double major. On the other hand, if things hadn’t worked out for me quite so well, double majoring might have involved so many required classes that I wouldn’t be able to take as many electives or try new things.

My fellow banter blogger Maria is a sophomore who has spent this year deciding what majors to declare. She is now a double English and Sociology major. Maria has graciously agreed to answer some questions for this blog post about her perspective on the choice to double major.

 

Rachel: Which major did you choose first, and why did you decide to add a second? How does this choice add to your academic goals?

Maria: I chose Sociology first, pretty early in the fall semester of this academic year. I had realized that Psychology couldn’t capture all of my intellectual passions as naturally as Sociology did, and that I could still look at how people engage with one another while maintaining my dream of counseling and opening up more options for what I may do in my professional work. Not long after, I realized how much I need English in my life—chances to write more creatively and analyze language in a way my brain naturally does, that I could only really get from English courses that I would enroll in anyway, English major or not.

R: How do your two majors complement each other?

M: I think having understandings of both enrich one another. I can employ Sociological concepts to English material or take my critical eye for analysis into Sociology, as is the beauty of a liberal arts education. I can exercise different kinds of writing but learn from both or combine both if I so choose. There are many people here who chose to double major in English and Sociology, or who love both departments and find similar meaning in both.

R: How do the two departments at Bryn Mawr compare/contrast to one another?

M: Both departments are extremely warm! I haven’t had enough close experience in either department as I’m pretty new to the majors so I don’t know the tiny differences, but there are professors I absolutely love in both who I feel care genuinely about their students.

R: Do you think that you use very different skills for the different departments? Why/why not?

M: Not really! I employ so much English in my Sociological work and Sociology in my English work just from how I am as a student and as a person. They are both reading and writing heavy. For Sociology there’s certainly a research part of my brain that I need to turn on when I inhabit those spaces, where taking a Sociological lens to literature is more seamless. Especially with the English courses I’ve taken which tend to emphasize social identities, aside from learning how to understand research, the two overlap well.

R: Do you have any advice for a first-year student about choosing a major?

M: Give things a chance! Explore, trust your intuition on what things you love to think most about; there are so many expectations but remember that the choice is yours & there is always more learning, time, and a whole world for you outside of undergrad that will bring things you may not expect. The most energizing majors will come from there.

Make sure to check out Maria’s blog at mbritt.blogs.brynmawr.edu!

A dorm tour

This past week brought a couple wild snowstorms, which were perfect opportunities to stay indoors and organize my room. I’m living in a double in Denbigh dorm this year. I didn’t choose this room—it was assigned to me when I returned from abroad—but I’ve been very happy with my living situation. My roommate has her own bedroom that’s connected to the main room, giving us both much more privacy than a standard double. My bedroom has three tall windows, a window seat, and a fireplace (here’s a piece of Bryn Mawr lore: in 1902, Denbigh almost burned to the ground while students fought the flames with a bucket brigade; nowadays fire-lighting of any kind is prohibited in the dorms). In this blog post I’ll show you my room and how I’ve added some individuality to it.

Every room at Bryn Mawr is slightly different. This year is the first time my room came with a built-in bookshelf, which I really like because it makes it so much easier to read before bed. I don’t hoard books but I have a small collection. What makes a good bookshelf? My diary has to be in easy reach. I have some books that remind me of home, some books I found by serendipity, a couple of new books to read when I have more time.

I do my best to live minimally and avoid accumulating possessions, but art is crucial to me. I always have watercolors, markers, stickers, colored paper, and collage materials in my room. I like to get postcards every time I go to an art museum. Above my fireplace, keeping watch over a teacup from a dear friend, is a van Gogh postcard from the Philadelphia Museum of Art that reminds me to look for beauty everywhere. Rothko and Chagall radiate vibrancy and warmth over my display of good luck charms. I look at my postcard from the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art whenever I leave my room: “This is God’s country. Don’t drive through it like hell.” That one is about appreciating the moment.

Above my bed is a poster I got at the beginning of my first year at Bryn Mawr. Here’s the story: I used to have a diary that had a cover with the same print, Hokusai’s The Wave. One day in high school I was sitting at my bus stop with my diary in my lap, and a car pulled up to the red light in from of me. The driver rolled down her window. In the 30 seconds before traffic started moving again, she gestured frantically at me, and I saw that her phone case had the same print as my diary. I beamed as we held up our matching waves, neither one of us able to find the words to fit the situation. The moral: there’s always someone who matches you, even if you feel alone.

On and above my desk I have some art that I made in Bryn Mawr’s art studio, Arncliffe. Some other must-haves on my desk are: stamps, envelopes, post-it notes, lip balm, and (my guilty pleasure) washi tape. I keep my lantern and my plants atop my dresser, along with a little bulletin board with more postcards—these ones all specifically remind me of my hometown of Minneapolis—and a quote that I hand-lettered which comes from a poem by Andrea Gibson.

Every dorm on campus has a slightly different personality, based on location, tradition, and who happens to be living there this year. The first floor of Denbigh can sometimes be a little loud for my liking, but overall it is a beautiful dorm and is situated very close to English House, which is perfect for me. In the next couple of months, I will go through my last room draw—the process in which we lottery into a dorm, and then a specific room in that dorm—and will find out where I’ll be living next year.

 

Bryn Mawr Reading Series: Angela Flournoy

When I was a prospective student, my college search was not very focused. I didn’t know what I wanted from my education and honestly, the entire process was extremely stressful. The one thing I was sure about was that wherever I ended up needed to be a place that valued literature, where I could surround myself with the written word, where there would be other people who loved books as much I did. I remember seeing something about Bryn Mawr’s Reading Series in a brochure and being intrigued—this school must value writing if it makes a point of inviting writers to come and speak—but I never went to even one reading until my sophomore year. I missed my beloved Louise Glück due to my own general disorganization my freshman year, and from then on made a commitment to go to every single reading that I can. Once I started, I was hooked. Last year I was able to see writers such as Edwidge Danticat, who gave a powerful reading of several essays on grieving; and Carl Phillips, with his gentle and matter-of-fact poetry.

One highlight from last year—and I mean a highlight of the Reading Series, but also a highlight of my sophomore year in general—was Joy Harjo. When I arrived for her reading, the  atmosphere was electric. It was standing room only. I squeezed into the back, recognizing friends and classmates from my English classes, all gazing forward with rapt attention. Her poetry, if you’ve never read it, is brutal at times, searing and not exactly confessional, but honest in a way that is hard to hear. And, although I feel conflicted about it, I admit that there was something alluring about her fame; her prolific body of work, the language she has built herself, the way she casually mentioned “Adrienne” (another legend, Adrienne Rich). When Harjo finished her final poem, I felt tears in my eyes. I looked at the student sitting next to me to see my own expression reflected back in her face.

This week I attended a reading by Angela Flournoy, author of the novel “The Turner House,” and a rising star in the literary world. Plenty of people showed up, but it didn’t feel cramped in the Goodhart Music Room, an old-fashioned hall with sumptuous green curtains on the windows, ornate chandeliers hanging from black chains, and a peaked wooden ceiling. I haven’t read any of Flournoy’s work, and it did take me a few minutes to get absorbed in the first excerpt she read from her novel. Then—at some point, I can’t say when—I slipped into the story.

Flournoy’s words became images in my head so rapidly that I didn’t even notice the moment of translation. I was watching a movie in my head. Maybe twenty minutes into the reading I jolted out of my trance, realizing that I had forgotten where I was and what I was watching.

At the end of the evening, during the Q and A, Flournoy said something, in response to a question about writing various types of characters, that I immediately wrote down: “Men make their opinions available to us, so they’re easier to write.” There were some chuckles from the (mostly female) audience. What an interesting idea. If women are taught to keep their opinions to themselves, does that make their stories harder to tell? Maybe that’s part of what makes evenings like this so special: a young woman taking the podium to tell her stories to other women.

How to: Take the blue bus!

People are usually surprised when they find out I’m taking my first Haverford class as a second semester junior. It’s pretty rare for someone to make it this long without taking advantage of the bi-co relationship. The fact is, I’ve never felt the need to venture outside of Bryn Mawr’s course catalogue. But this semester, I realized that only Spanish class that fit into my schedule was at Haverford, so I’ve started taking the blue bus every Monday and Wednesday.

The idea of taking a bus to another college campus might sound strange, so I made this video to show prospective students—or anyone who’s curious—what a normal trip to Haverford looks like for me.

My favorite off-campus spots

When I was a prospective student, I imagined myself traveling to Philadelphia every weekend to bask in the hustle and bustle of city life. In reality, though, a round trip ticket to center city is around $13, and, at least for me, represents a considerable chunk of time taken out of everything else I have to do for school. So, if I’m not constantly going into the city, how do I avoid feeling cooped up on campus? Over my years here, I’ve found a few places that are close enough to be practical, but far enough away to feel like an escape.

Luddington Library is only a few block away from Bryn Mawr’s campus. Filled with sunlight and comfortable study spaces, it’s a great place to get work done or relax with a book. My favorite place to go is the children’s area, on the top floor. During the school day it tends to be deserted, so it’s the perfect place to spread out all my papers and study. If you like to study with snacks, there’s also an area on the ground floor called The Reading Porch where food and beverages are allowed. Unfortunately, it seems to be a hit-or-miss when Bryn Mawr students who are not from the area try to apply for library cards. That being said, it can still be fun to browse the shelves and periodicals.

Although there’s a Starbucks near the train station, I prefer Hothouse Coffee for a more relaxed atmosphere and the beautiful wood floors and furnishings. Househouse is right next to the Bryn Mawr Film Institute, a historic movie theater that has special showings and events. My go-to order is a mocha, and the rich chocolate is the exact rush of sugar and caffeine that I need to finish an essay outline.

Every Saturday, the blue bus (which ordinarily travels between Bryn Mawr and Haverford) makes an extra stop: Ardmore, another town on the mainline. This shuttle bus is totally free, and a convenient way to get to a number of stores. Ardmore has a very cute, walkable, small-town feel, but most of the retail is pretty upscale. I love browsing at Paper Source, a gift and crafting supply store, and clothing stores like Madewell and Urban Outfitters. I always stop at the Ardmore Farmers Market, which doesn’t feature a lot of farm-fresh produce, but it’s a really cool indoor space with vendors selling prepared foods, and some fruits and vegetables. Don’t miss the cheese stand, which usually has free samples, and a newer stall where you can sample flavored olive oils and vinaigrettes. My favorite place in the Farmers Market is the Argyle Bouquet, which sells plants, flowers, and adorable potted succulents. Over the years I’ve nurtured a little family of succulents, all of which have names and a special place in my heart. My last stop in Ardmore is usually the Sephora. I don’t wear makeup, but it’s fun to try on all the nail polishes, perfumes, and lipsticks.

The Ardmore Farmers Market

Ashbridge Memorial Park is located beside Bryn Mawr’s Graduate School of Social Work, no more than a five minute walk from campus. This park is lovely place to connect with nature. Especially in the springtime, there’s nothing more relaxing than sitting by the burbling creek as it trickles through the small wooded area. Local dogs and their owners often come to play on the gentle hill, while joggers make their way through the winding path. On a foggy morning the park looks as mysterious as a fairytale marsh where a coven of witches might live.

Mornings

One of my goals for the semester was to get into a more reasonable sleep schedule. Last year I was staying up until at least 2 or 3 a.m. every single day and then sleeping as late as possible. I would rush to class groggy and over-caffeinated, and I was constantly tired. This semester I’ve decided to change my ways. So far I’m pretty proud of myself. I’ve been getting out of bed at a reasonable hour—even if I don’t have class!—and going to sleep before the morning gets too wee. The truth is that although I don’t always like waking up, I love the mornings. The air seems cleaner before the day starts. Campus is chilly and empty. Light slants through the buildings and trees in unexpected ways. Eating breakfast in Erdman dining hall is a much calmer experience before everyone else arrives. When my breakfast has settled, I usually have time to go to the gym or take a walk.

I took these photos on a Bryn Mawr morning last week, before the recent snowfall. I was a little too late to see the sunrise, but I still enjoyed the chilly newness of the day. The blue sky and the bright buildings, with their long shadows, reminded me of an oil painting. The beginning of the day is hard for a lot of people, and so is the beginning of a new semester. But there’s also something beautiful and exciting about the glow of a new sun.